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November 13, 2019

SVSU Cardinal Singers and Concert Choir to perform, raise awareness about mental health issues

Musicians with Saginaw Valley State University's Cardinal Singers and Concert Choir groups, inspired to shine a light on social issues, will perform a concert this week aimed at raising awareness about mental health challenges. The concert, titled “Threads of Joy,” is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 14, at 7:30 p.m. in SVSU's Rhea Miller Recital Hall.

Kevin Simons, SVSU associate professor of music and the performance's director, said this is the first SVSU choir concert to explore such a socially-relevant topic.

“I selected the music for this program to help our singers, university and community better understand some of the problems with how we talk about mental illness, and to celebrate the contributions of artists who experienced mental illness themselves,” Simons said.

The concert will feature selections such as “Threads of Joy” by composer Dale Trumbore; “In meinem garten, op. 29 n. 2” and “Der träumende See, op. 33 n. 1” by 19th century German composer Robert Schumann; and “You Will be Found” from the Tony award-winning musical “Dear Evan Hansen” by American songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

The two SVSU ensembles — with a combined 41 vocalists — will be joined by Amanda Stamper, piano accompanist.

The concert is free and open to the public.

For more information about the event, contact the SVSU Department of Music at (989) 964-4159 or visit

November 8, 2019

At your service: SVSU receives ‘Best for Vets’ ranking for sixth year

For the sixth consecutive year, Saginaw Valley State University has been recognized for its support of military-affiliated students, earning a place in the Best for Vets: Colleges 2020 rankings by Military Times.

SVSU is rated No. 104 among all four-year institutions nationwide in the 2020 rankings by the independent media organization dedicated to news and information about the military. This year, SVSU placed second out of all Michigan four-year institutions.

For a school to be placed on the Best for Vets list, colleges and universities are evaluated on policies and programs offered to service members, military veterans and their families. To be considered for the list, colleges and universities complete a comprehensive survey which is evaluated by Military Times. Institutions were then ranked based on survey responses and data collected by three different federal agencies. 

Bethany Alford, SVSU’s director of Military Student Affairs, said her office staff takes pride in creating a friendly and welcoming place on campus.

The SVSU Military Student Affairs office assists students and family members with paperwork, accessing their federal benefits, academic advising, and generally serving as a “one-stop shop” for military-affiliated students.

“We are consistently looking at ways to better serve our military-connected students, whether it's referring them to resources on or off campus, to reevaluating the education and training they've received in the military for academic credit,” she said. “We will strive to always be a top choice to military-connected students and work hard to show how much we value them on our campus.”

The Military Student Resource Center is also provided for use by any military-affiliated student at SVSU.

Services the office provides are veteran orientation, Veteran Peer Support group and the Student Veterans of America group.

November 7, 2019

SVSU selects K-12 educators for Gerstacker leadership program

A new group of K-12 education leaders committed to professional growth will join the Saginaw Valley State University Gerstacker Fellowship program in 2020.

As part of the initiative, 11 teachers, principals, and program administrators from across Michigan will receive concentrated leadership training over a 1-year period. The experience will include an international trip to Japan in June.

Previous overseas trips have included China, South Korea, Poland, Taiwan, Finland, and Germany.

These trips send participants to educational institutions, where participants learn about international educational systems and corporate settings. There, they discover how leadership plays out in different cultural and economic settings. 

Last year’s group visited Finland and Germany. Their stops included K-12 schools, Helsinki University, Hochshule Ansbach, secondary German vocational schools and numerous cultural sites.

The program was established in 2005 with a $1.5 million endowment from the Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation of Midland. Participants are known as Gerstacker Fellows. They meet monthly on weekends.

Experts in the field instruct the group on subjects such as organizational leadership, ethics, finances, communication, human resources, entrepreneurship and education with a global perspective.

Those selected to participate in the 2020 program are as follows:

  • Joseph Amabile; IB coordinator/professional learning community leader, Oxford Public Schools
  • Deedra Baker; intervention teacher; Mt. Morris Consolidated Schools
  • Laura Chang; instructional consultant, literacy coach, and interventionist, Vicksburg Community Schools
  • Margaret Doan; elementary principal, Midland Public Schools
  • Tamara Johnson; executive director of fiscal services, Saginaw Public Schools
  • Jason Kowalski; assistant elementary and middle school principal, Carrollton Public Schools
  • Nathan Mausolf; assistant high school principal, Birch Run Schools
  • Scott Miklovic; director of technology and innovation, Elkton Pigeon Bayport Laker Schools
  • Justin Shaner; assistant middle and high school principal, Bay City Public Schools
  • Molly Sholten; instructional coach, Institute for Excellence in Education, Mount Pleasant
  • Penny Miller-Nelson; assistant superintendent, Midland Public Schools

November 7, 2019

SVSU students earn top recognition at regional geography conference

Two Saginaw Valley State University students’ passion for geography earned accolades at a recent regional geography conference hosted on campus.

The East Lakes Division of the American Association of Geographers held their 2019 annual meeting and conference at SVSU in October. There were 117 attendees from 22 colleges and universities across Michigan and Ohio.

Samantha Turner, who received a bachelor's degree in biology from SVSU in May 2019, earned first place in the undergraduate poster competition for her poster titled, “Characterization of Cold Air Movement in Apple Orchards using High Resolution Topographic Data.” The Saginaw resident's passion for ecology and love of problem-solving inspired her to pursue this interdisciplinary research while an undergraduate student.

“Problem-solving has always been something I’m good at, so learning the software — ArcGIS with the Spatial Analyst Extension — was super intuitive to me when I started,” Turner said.

Turner hopes eventually to earn a master’s degree in geography and a graduate certificate in spatial ecology.

Gabrielle Gittens, an SVSU geography major from Saginaw, won second place in the undergraduate poster competition for her poster, titled “Reconstructing Ancient Landscapes: Pollen as the Key to the Past.”

Thirteen judges from various colleges and universities judged competitions for undergraduate student poster, undergraduate student presentation, graduate student poster, and graduate student presentation. Julie Commerford, SVSU assistant professor of geography, served as the conference coordinator.

“The conference is a neat opportunity for students to network and interact with faculty from around the region,” Commerford said. “It’s a once- or twice-a-year opportunity to make the world a little bit bigger.”

During the conference, speaker sessions addressed different areas of geography such as economic geography, urban geography, human geography, physical geography and geospatial techniques. 

The conference also included a panel discussion organized and facilitated by Dayne Walling from the University of Minnesota. Evelyn Ravuri, SVSU professor of geography, served as a panelist and covered topics related to urban revitalization.

November 6, 2019

SVSU to host recital dedicated to late opera singer Jessye Norman

Saginaw Valley State University will continue its Rhea Miller Concert Series this week with a musical performance by LaToya Lain, a soprano singer familiar to the Great Lakes Bay Region, and Casey Robards, pianist. The performance is scheduled Saturday, Nov. 9, at 7:30 p.m. in SVSU’s Rhea Miller Recital Hall. 

This event is free and open to the public.

This program is dedicated to the late Jessye Norman, who died in September. She was an American soprano singer who was an internationally recognized opera performer. She earned five Grammys as well as awards including the Kennedy Center Honor in 1997 and the National Medal of Arts in 2009. 

Born in New Orleans, Lain is a soprano singer who has traveled all over the U.S. to study voice and music. She recently toured abroad, visiting Germany, France, Zimbabwe, and Bolivia with performances and solo recitals; in 2018, she performed with the Saginaw Choral Society as a featured soloist. Lain also currently serves as an assistant professor of music at the University of North Carolina.  

Known for her adaptability and musical knowledge, Robards is a pianist and vocal coach. She has played across the globe with instrumentalists and singers. She also is a founding member of two musical groups: KO Trio and the Patterson Piano Duo.

Musical pieces planned for the SVSU performance include “Love, Let the Wind Cry. . . How I Adore Thee!” by Undine Smith Moore, “Wesendonck Lieder” by Richard Wagner, and “Cantata” by John Carter.

The Rhea Miller Concert Series is made possible by a generous gift from Rhea E. Miller, a longtime friend of SVSU. Her gift, administered by the Miller Trust for Music Education, has provided the university with the opportunity to offer outstanding performances by nationally and internationally acclaimed musical artists at no cost to the audience since 1993. 

For more information, call SVSU's Department of Music at (989) 964-4159 or email

November 6, 2019

SVSU student from Bay City shows perseverance to complete degree, continue service to country

Chaz Fowler is as determined in completing his education at Saginaw Valley State University as he was in completing his training to become a United States Marine.

Thanks in part to financial support through the Robert and Ellen Thompson Military Scholarship at SVSU, the political science major from Bay City is closing in on his mission to graduate and return to military service.

Fowler served as a U.S. Marine and presidential sentry for five years. He said his training was grueling, but that he always had his eyes set on achieving his goals.

“This position required immense commitment and persistence in the face of adversity,” Fowler said. “Each time a new obstacle came my way, I prayed I would have the resolve to push through.”

His ultimate goal in the service – to be one of the White House sentries, comprised of four Marine Corps non-commissioned officers who act as a ceremonial guard outside the West Wing of the White House – proved to be just out of his reach.

“The aesthetic for the media required Marines be within a few inches of each other when standing outside the West Wing — for presentation. I was not 6-foot, 4-inches tall as Corporal Bernard was, and thus had come up short,” Fowler said.

He was devastated at the news but turned it into an opportunity to persevere.

“I wanted to prove that, if I was not going to the White House, I would be the best — wherever I went.” Fowler said.

His tour of duty included service as a presidential sentry at Camp David, where his responsibilities included safeguarding the president.

After completing five years of military service, Fowler enrolled at SVSU, which has been consistently named “Best for Vets” by Military Times and a military-friendly university by VIQTORY.

College presented many familiar challenges for Fowler.

“Time management, commitment and determination are all necessary components for success here. I would like to say I have done well at traversing these obstacles,” said Fowler, president of the Student Veterans of America club at SVSU.

Fowler was able to finance his degree until his senior year, where “again I had come up short.”

When he heard about the Robert and Ellen Thompson Military Scholarship, Folwer knew it would provide him the opportunity to finish one of his life goals.

Fowler is grateful that the scholarship will allow him to complete his degree and return to military service, this time as a college-educated officer.

“I would like to personally thank Mr. and Mrs. Thompson for their gracious efforts in helping students, veterans and, most specifically, for helping me when it mattered most,” Fowler said.

He will join others at SVSU in recognizing Veterans Day during a Veterans Day Celebration that begins at 2 p.m. Monday, Nov. 11 in the Curtiss Hall banquet rooms.

Col. Rhoda K. Daniel will serve as the featured speaker. Today a Freeland business owner, she has served over 34 years in both the Army and the Army National Guard. An Iraq War veteran, Daniel earned the Combat Action Badge, the Meritorious Unit Commendation, and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal. 

The public is welcome to attend.

November 6, 2019

SVSU to host Foreign Language Day event for 400 visiting high school students

SVSU's Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts • Thursday, Nov. 7, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. 

An annual celebration of language, culture and friendship will return to Saginaw Valley State University this week.

As part of the university's Foreign Language Day event, more than 400 high school students from across the Great Lakes Bay Region will visit campus Thursday, Nov. 7, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

That is when the group will participate in friendly competitions involving singing, dancing, theatrical skits, and creating posters that highlight languages from across the globe. The event also includes an international awareness contest, focusing on the importance of foreign language study for 21st century learners.

Many of the day's activities — including the competitions — will take place on stage in the Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts.

Since 1976, SVSU has hosted Foreign Language Day events yearly. The university's Department of Modern Foreign Languages organizes the event.

For more information about Foreign Language Day at SVSU, please contact Monika Dix, chairperson of SVSU's Department of Modern Foreign Languages, at

November 5, 2019

Student's beloved Pakistan dish among meals set to spice up SVSU's International Food Festival

Farwa Fatima is accustomed to international food festivals. When the neighborly Saginaw Valley State University student from Pakistan cooks chicken biriyani, a food festival of sorts materializes in her apartment living room. There, classmates and friends from a variety of cultures — American, Japanese, and Polish, among others — often gather to enjoy the feast and flavors produced by her family recipe.

Fans of Fatima’s food will expand considerably next week. Her chicken biriyani will be one of more than 30 dishes served at SVSU’s 22nd Annual International Food Festival on Tuesday, Nov. 12, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., in SVSU’s Marketplace at Doan.

An all-you-can eat admission ticket costs $9.75. The public is welcomed to the feast, which will feature items prepared by the university’s cooking staff using recipes provided by international students from 15 nations.

Fatima, for one, is looking forward to the event.

“It’s a chance to see so much diversity in food and people while eating with others,” the computer science major said. “There are different foods, people, languages and accents — all in one place.”

Fatima plans to taste her classmates’ cooking — she is particularly interested in food from the recipes of students from the Philippines — while offering three dishes from her native Pakistan. The crowd favorite among her trio of selections, she predicts, will be the chicken biriyani.

For Fatima, the food brings her memories of her family. Her mother and sister often would cook the meal for her. It can be a tricky dish to prepare — “Be careful with the salt,” she said — but has proven a wonderfully welcoming way to introduce friends on campus to her cultural roots in Pakistan.

Pat Shelley, SVSU’s international student adviser, said the intercultural exchange remains one of his favorite aspects of the festival.

“Some people differ in their approach to foods, but I encourage people to be open to tasting and trying different foods they may have never eaten before,” he said.

Featured dishes include savory items such as chicken korma from Pakistan and Armenian dolma with grape leaves. Among the sweet items on the menu are chè bắp, a corn pudding from Vietnam, and white fungus sweet soup from China. Drinks selection includes “Da Soda,” a mix of Sprite with milk, from Pakistan.

Among the other nations that will be represented on the menu are Japan, India, Nigeria, Panama, Poland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

Members of SVSU’s International Students Club volunteer to represent their country by decorating cooking stations and serving patrons during the event. The festival includes a competition in which participants can act as judges for categories including best sweet dish, best savory dish, most refreshing, best decorations, and best customer service.

Shelley said he expects a large turnout for the festival. About 2,000 people attended the previous event in November 2018.


November 5, 2019

SVSU selected to national academy focused on advancing student success

Saginaw Valley State University is home to hard-working students who often overcome challenges in pursuit of their degrees. The university has placed additional emphasis on degree completion by participating in an exclusive program offered by one of the nation’s leading higher education accreditors.

SVSU was selected as one of eight institutions nationally to participate in the Higher Learning Commissions Student Success Academy, a 3-year initiative that will connect university staff and faculty with industry experts and resources aimed at impacting student success.

“Everyone on our campus has a role in student success; it’s at the core of everything we do at SVSU,” said Deborah Huntley, SVSU’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.

“Participation in the Student Success Academy is a way to systematically assess our initiatives and to enhance the services and supports that we provide to our students from their first engagement with the university through their post-graduation success. This benefits our students, it benefits our university, and it benefits all the communities SVSU serves.”

The Student Success Academy will pair SVSU representatives with higher education scholars. Together, they will examine the university’s existing programs affecting student success and later identify opportunities to implement additional initiatives to impact outcomes. The data-based analysis will involve examining the student population, how SVSU policies and practices impact student outcomes, and what kind of actions may generate more success.

The 3-year program kicked off when SVSU representatives and their Student Success Academy peer institutions met in October for a roundtable conference in St. Charles, Illinois, just outside Chicago. The gathering included Higher Learning Commission staff and members — including renowned experts in higher education-related issues — providing an overview of the academy objectives.

The conference introduced attendees to the year-by-year goals of the academy. The first-year goal involves reviewing SVSU student data and identifying gaps that exist in the student success initiatives at the university. The second-year goal includes identifying opportunities for closing those gaps. The goal for the final year involves designing an action plan to eliminate those gaps.

The conference also provided national data points — relating to topics such as rates of student retention and course completion — aimed at helping academy members measure their respective universities against peer institutions.

The Higher Learning Commission accredits SVSU. The university most recently received a 10-year reaccreditation from the agency in June 2014.

A committee of SVSU faculty and staff members participated in the academy. That roster includes the following:

  • Jenna Briggs, senior director of Advanced Studies and International Student Services
  • Sidney Childs, associate provost for Student Affairs and dean of students
  • Rachel Florence-Spaetzel, director of orientation programs
  • Dawn Hinton, professor of sociology
  • Poonam Kumar, director of the Center for Academic Innovation and Online Learning
  • Josh Ode, associate provost
  • Erik Trump, professor of political science
  • Nick Wagner, executive director of institutional effectiveness

October 31, 2019

Driven SVSU engineering student overcomes every obstacle

Mitch Hughes has shown the drive, determination, and work ethic to overcome any challenge. The senior mechanical engineering student at Saginaw Valley State University defies limits by balancing a full load of rigorous engineering courses, a demanding and time-consuming co-op, and his responsibilities as a varsity college athlete.

He thrives off a challenge and perseveres past obstacles. His grit and fortitude have fueled his desire to achieve, and he is proud of all that he’s accomplished in the face of adversity.

“It’s how you overcome those challenges,” the Davisburg native said. “I was never really gifted anything. I’ve worked for everything I have.”

With a strong aptitude for math and grandparents that worked in engineering, Hughes had always been interested in the field and was drawn to the complexity and problem-solving elements it provides.

“I love the challenge,” Hughes said. “No two problems are ever the same. There’s something new every day. It makes you think.”

A first-generation college student, Hughes knew that he always wanted to pursue a four-year degree, even though he would be the first in his family to do so. He pushed himself to achieve in high school and prepared for the rigors of university by balancing multiple advanced placement courses with three varsity sports, including two during the same season. His hard work and determination paid off with a near perfect grade point average, over 20 college credits, and an opportunity to pursue collegiate athletics. 

Hughes had always enjoyed playing golf with his family, but didn’t begin playing seriously until his freshman year of high school. He worked hard to improve his game and began to excel during his junior year, placing him in contention to play collegiately.

The opportunity to compete in Division 2 athletics, combined with the scholarships he received, helped guide Hughes’ decision to attend SVSU. Knowing that he was paying for college on his own, he strived to find ways to reduce the cost of his education. His determination paid off and earned him SVSU’s most elite merit-based scholarship, the President’s Scholarship, as well other private scholarships, that allowed him to begin his college career without having to take out any loans. He knew his decision to pursue higher education was beneficial for his future, and it inspired his younger brother and sister to do so as well.

However, he did not always have this certainty. Hughes was excited to grow and challenge himself even further at college, but didn’t know what to expect.

“I was always worried about classes being extremely hard, meeting new people, and fitting in,” Hughes said.

These reservations were soon resolved, and he continued to thrive. Hughes soared academically— earning himself a spot on either the President’s List or Dean’s List each semester at SVSU and continually received recognition at the athletic department’s annual academic banquet.

His teammates made him feel welcome and he developed a strong community at SVSU. The genuine connections he built made him feel at home and his team helped him open up to his new environment.

“It’s like a family. I built a bond with a bunch of people. I’m going to talk to them for the rest of my life,” Hughes said. “We’re always there for each other when we need it. It’s a big reason why I’ve done so well.”

Despite this encouragement, his road to success was not always an easy one. The support of his teammates and his perseverance to overcome obstacles became his driving force when facing challenges, both on the course and in the classroom.

With a large roster and only the top third of players getting to compete for the Cardinals, Hughes had to fight for a spot in the lineup. Not having the chance to play as an underclassman, he was determined to compete during his senior season.

He dedicated himself to the team’s early morning workouts and weekend practices, pushing himself to constantly improve. Although there was no mandatory practice during the week, Hughes would go to nearby Saginaw Valley Public Golf Course in between his demanding class schedule to practice on his own whenever he had the chance.

His grit and dedication paid off and earned him a spot in the lineup his final year. He competed in nearly every competition for the Cardinals, placing in the top 10 individually and helping lead the team to several top 5 finishes.

“I love the competition,” Hughes said. “I forgot how much I missed it.”   

He extended this resiliency and competitive spirit into the classroom as well. Even though he had an impressive GPA and resume, he struggled to find work experience in his field.

“It was hard to get a co-op for a while,” Hughes said. “It took two years to get one. I kept fighting though.”

This determination and work ethic paid off when Enayat Mahajerin, professor of mechanical engineering, recommended him for a co-op with B&P Littleford in Saginaw. The company was impressed by Hughes and has entrusted him with advanced responsibilities over the several months he has worked there.

“I help design parts, modify drawings, run vibration tests, and help the guys who are building machines in the shop,” Hughes said.

His patience was worthwhile as the co-op has been an excellent fit. He worked full-time during the summer months, and 15-20 hours during the school year in addition to being a full-time student and athlete. Hughes hopes to continue working for the company upon graduation, with the goal of one day being a certified professional engineer and opening his own engineering company.

Balancing everything on his schedule has been a challenge, but one that Hughes has embraced. His discipline and time management keep him on track to achieving his goals.

“It’s a grind. You really have to teach yourself how to have a schedule because when you get off your schedule that’s when the stress and anxiety kicks in and you’re behind,” Hughes said. “It definitely puts a lot of stress on you, but it also makes life interesting in a way because I’m always doing something.”

His dedication to excellence and the experiences he’s gained from his co-op have influenced his senior design project as well. As a capstone course, engineering students at SVSU are placed in groups and paired with a company to solve a need and build something new.

Hughes’ group was partnered with Duro-Last in Saginaw to develop a ladder-like cart system for the company, and they have dedicated countless hours to the project.

“We designed a custom hand truck with a system that can ride up the rungs of a ladder and be pulled up by a pulley or wench system,” Hughes said. “Some groups have to modify a system, but ours is brand new. There’s nothing in the world like it.”

Along with weekly group meetings, Hughes devotes 8-10 hours per week individually on the project to ensure that it is successful. Ultimately, this inner drive and the satisfaction he achieves from a job well done is what motivates him more than any external recognition.

“I have this underlying desire to be great. To prove everyone wrong and to prove that I can be someone,” Hughes said. “There’s something burning inside me. There’s a fire.”

Hughes is grateful for all the opportunities he’s had at SVSU and for how much he’s grown, both as an athlete, engineer, and individual. His college experience has been critical to his professional and personal development.

“Besides giving you a degree and education, it gives you a chance to learn about yourself,” Hughes said of attending college. “It’s really a life changing experience. You realize you have more potential than you think you did.”

As a senior graduating in May 2020, he has no doubt that he made the right choice in attending SVSU.

“Over the years I’ve realized this is an amazing place and I’m really glad I came here,” Hughes said.

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